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Drug more potent than fentanyl detected in East TN, Nashville health leaders say

The Metro Nashville Drug Coalition said it has not seen evidence of widespread illegal distribution of the drug yet, but said it was detected in East TN.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Metro Nashville health officials said their concerns are growing about the illegal distribution of opioids around Tennessee, saying a new drug more robust than fentanyl has found its way into the hands of Tennesseans.  

The Metro Nashville Public Health Department said the synthetic drug protonitazene has not been detected in Middle Tennessee but was found in East Tennessee. They believe it's only a matter of time before it's located in Davidson County.

Frankita Davis was Betty Davis' daughter, who she lost last year to fentanyl poisoning.

"It's not an accidental death," Betty Davis said. "My daughter didn't accidentally kill herself."

Fentanyl is the primary driver of drug overdoses in Nashville. But MNPHD is also warning people about protonitazene, which many haven't heard of. 

"I haven't," Davis said. "Someone else is going to feel the pain that I am feeling if we aren't educating our people to the poison."

"It's reported to have a potency three times that of fentanyl," said Josh Love, an epidemiologist with the MNPHD.

He said the drug is 50 times more potent than heroin. If someone overdoses on it, he said naloxone overdose reversal kits may only work to an extent to revive the person.

"Given the more high potency of substances that we are encountering, i.e., fentanyl, it might take more doses to revive an individual, unfortunately," Love said.

Love pointed out protonitazene has not been found in the Metro area yet, and it may never be.

"We don't know if protonitazene, if we see a few cases in one part of the state, whether it's going to take hold or not," Love said. "So that's what you are seeing here, us trying to stay on the front edge of what we are seeing."